Chapter 5: Rock Bottom
It was almost dawn when Ivy left the Wayne penthouse. By the time she reached Robinson Park, it was full light. The man with the coffee cart was setting up for the day.
“STOP!” Ivy screeched. It was the last straw. Harvey abandoned her. Harley abandoned her. And now this fiend. “Pouring scalding water over the ground up babies of those dear Arabica trees, have you no heart! You wretched, wretched monster!”
Raoul looked at her suspiciously.
“Lady, I got espresso, cappuccino, café au lait. You want some decaf new age herb tea, try the Greenmarket on the corner.”
“I do not want HERBAL TEA!” she screamed. Harvey. Harley. Wayne gave her cheap drugstore chocolates. “Don’t you realize, you heartless fiend, that those coffee beans are somebody’s children! A coffee tree takes six years to grow strong enough to produce a single bean—only to have cruel planters strip them away to feed a brutal world’s desire for a morning pick-me-up!”
She was prepared to bolster her remarks with however much chemical persuasion it took to make him see her point—when she saw a tall man with a white streak through his red hair came out of the apartment building across the way. He was headed straight for the coffee cart, and as he came closer, Ivy was horrified to see—as if there could be any doubt with that hair—it was the man from the Highland Games. The one Selina called Jason Blood.
“Monstrous man,” Ivy hissed under her breath.
“Ah, I see it all now,” Raoul said wisely, nodding as if it all suddenly made sense. “Here I thought you were one of the crazy peppermint tea women.”
Ivy turned on Raoul testily, forgetting for a second that Jason Blood was crossing the street and would reach them in a matter of seconds.
“What exactly is so crazy about herbal tea,” she demanded, “it is no less barbaric than what you were doing to those poor coffee grounds.”
“You’ve had a lover’s spat,” Raoul offered kindly, pointing to Jason. “It’s okay, happens all the time. Your friend used to make the morning coffee, I bet, that’s why you rail about it so.”
“Good morning, Raoul,” Jason stepped onto the curb and greeted the vendor cordially. “A large café au lait, please.” He gave a vague bob in Ivy’s direction, what would have been a quarter bow in a more civilized age, to politely acknowledge the existence of one with whom one was not on polite terms.
“Good morning, Mr. Blood, one café au lait,” Raoul announced cheerily.
In the minutes it took Raoul to finish grinding the beans, fill the steam chamber, and begin heating the water, nobody spoke. Ivy felt sure she had achieved the poised, cool dignity befitting a goddess of the green, and Jason wasn’t about to chitchat when he had nothing to say.
It was the coffee machine that finally broke the silence, emitting a high, pressurized squeal. Ivy tensed—the noise punctuated the strained lack of conversation, and it announced that time was running out. In another minute, this Raoul would pour Jason Blood’s coffee, hand him the cup, and Blood would walk away. If Ivy was going to say or do anything, it had to be now.
“So you’re the loathsome worm that took Harvey away from me,” she hissed hatefully.
Raoul’s eyes flicked up at Jason and then became engrossed polishing the cappuccino spout.
“I am not aware that I ‘took’ Harvey from anyone,” Jason answered smoothly. “I am rather surprised you couldn’t hold on to any man you wanted. Something about the irresistible jungle green, wasn’t it?”
Ivy turned to slap him, then eyed the vendor. “Give me a latte whatever it was,” she ordered, taking the cup he was handing Jason, and flung the hot contents into Jason’s face.
“Jesus, lady,” Raoul exclaimed, “Mr. Blood, I’m so sorry. Crazies in the park, I didn’t know.”
“Quite alright, Raoul,” Jason said calmly. “No harm done.”
“Oh, of course,” Ivy railed, “No harm done, quite alright, what could be wrong! Rude, freakish, do-gooders roaming around healing anybody’s face that’s cut in two, no good, faithless two-timing skunk he was anyway, taking up with that, that Rocket…”
She continued as she turned her back on Jason and Raoul and disappeared into the park, muttering as the foliage thickened around her, closing off the path before either man could follow her.
“…Cheap Hollywood riffraff. And tell-all books, killing trees to air those revolting fantasies about a man that doesn’t even care about her, doesn’t even see that, too stupid to realize he only keeps her around as a convenience. And Wayne. What kind of tribute is a Whitman Sampler, anyway. What kind of devoted slave can’t do better than…”
Jason allowed a thin, cruel smile to crease his lips for a moment, then he turned to Raoul and resumed his everyday manner.
“Another café au lait, if you please, Raoul. Since I never got to drink the first.”
I had the weirdest dream last night—after I finally got to sleep. An old dream. Batman on a rooftop. There was a time I wouldn’t even let myself remember those. Mirror-Bitch was pretty smug back then.
I’d wake up feeling wrapped in this warm tingly contentment, and I’d stagger into the bathroom—and there she’d be, sporting a rosy glow. I’d grumble because Batman and I were never going to happen and I was too smart to waste my time wanting something that could never be. And those eyes in the mirror just—glinted, somehow, vaguely triumphant, like she’d won some game I didn’t even know we were playing.
Well it’s different now. I woke up remembering the dream just fine, thank you very much. The rooftop was the MoMA and he was in the old costume with the slate emblem on a black oval. And even though I never remembered those old dreams, I knew this was one because he didn’t have scars on his arms or chest, and he kissed down my neck, but he didn’t pull my hair or rub my abs…
And of course, when I woke up, it was different too. A faint smell of leather, musk, and damp rock, a muscular arm (with the scar) nestled around me, chest (with the scratches) rising and falling, warm under my fingers. In a strange way, it was a lot less cozy than waking alone wrapped in that haze of tingly contentment. At least it was last night. I staggered into the bathroom, like in the old days—but now Mirror-Bitch wouldn’t look me in the eye.
I guess technically that means I wouldn’t look her in the eye, either, but there’s no doubt who was avoiding whom. The rosy glow was there, just like before, but I knew there wouldn’t be any gleam of triumph in her eye.
Bruce said I couldn’t be tamed, but I couldn’t be so sure. I was the one inside here, inside my head. I was the one that had… settled… into the manor and… into his world. Into his life. I really enjoyed getting that potpourri for the morning room, I really was thinking about redecorating the penthouse… If this wasn’t “tamed,” it certainly felt… domesticated.
It was early, but I didn’t go back to bed. I went to my suite and worked out. I thought about old times, old rooftops. I thought about Pammy too. Annoying as she could be, she was once a force to be reckoned with. Now she barely seemed able to summon the qualities that made her Poison Ivy, let alone sustain them—all because of a man. Pammy didn’t even like men very much, and with Harvey she had started out to—
I stopped mid-stride and the treadmill whooshed the floor out from under me. I banged my cheek on the handlebar going down and I didn’t even care. I had this great big grin on my face—that frankly made the cheek hurt and I didn’t care one bit. Because I’d found the answer! Whew!
She was projecting! Ivy was projecting. She’s the one who had let herself be sucked in, ever so subtly seduced into a relationship with a man she wouldn’t even admit to liking at first—a man she started out going after professionally, when they were on opposite sides, in order to… Because Harvey Dent was the D.A. back then, but then she got involved with Two-Face too—and somehow found herself after however many twists and turns and rounds of denial, thoroughly stuck on him and… She’s the one who had gotten so tangled up in that rat’s nest of conflicting emotions that she wouldn’t even cash in when she had Bruce Wayne in her snare and…
This all sounded better in my head.
It really did. The initial spark was a good one.
I moved in with the man I love and I bought a few things for the house because it was Christmas time and I was feeling good. It’s not a big deal.
Pammy, on the other hand, was in a downward spiral of spectacular proportions. In the heat of it, she lashed out and said I was the one broken and tamed and caged.
Pammy is a mess.
And I am a cat.
And cats always land on their feet.
And that’s that.
I was feeling much better—despite the fact that my cheek really hurt. I could feel it starting to swell, so I went back to the bedroom. I knew Bruce kept a jar of salve that would head off any visible bruising. Unfortunately, my less-than-catlike rummaging around woke Bruce, and he insisted on helping. So I sat on the edge of the bed while he applied salve to my cheekbone…
“I was thinking,” I started to say.
“Don’t talk,” he warned.
“I washinking,” I began again, moving only the one side of my mouth, “Abou Poishunvy.”
“I was, too. This sorry state she’s in, we better find a way to snap her out of it. Otherwise, it’s going to be when I rigged Harvey’s coin: peace for a week and he came back ten times worse. Right now, Ivy’s barely functional enough to commit a crime, but sooner or later she’ll hit rock bottom, she’ll look at herself in the mirror and—”
Bruce stared, let go of my cheek, and grunted.
“And flip out,” I repeated. “You came close with the Whitman Sampler, if it’s any consolation. If that’s not rock bottom, I don’t know what it’s going to take.” I laughed, “You couldn’t have at least gone for the Russell Stovers?”
His lip twitched.
“After eight grudge matches with a six foot flytrap, a greenhouse full of suffocating spores, twice encased in a slimy vegetable pod, seven times tied up with creeper vines with a grip like alloyed steel, no, I wasn’t going to spring for the Russell Stovers.”
I tugged at him as I laid back on the bed.
“I could never understand that,” I purred, wrapping around him like one of those creeper vines, “Holding you down is the best part. Staffing it out to henchmen and creeper vines?...”
Ivy could no more hide from Jason Blood than she could prevent his following her. The wilds of Robinson Park were no camouflage from one who could sense her aura, a frittery green aspect moving towards the northwest corner of the park. The area was unnaturally thick with foliage, foliage subtly different from the other greenery planted by humans. The thick wall of thorny shrubs was meant to prove a barrier, but Jason’s magick could part it with a thought.
He found her in the very rear of her lair, back half-turned to another wall of thorny green, her arms crossed before her—a defensive position. Hostile but defensive.
Jason approached her like an invited guest and sat down next to her, offering one of two large paper cups.
“Raoul seemed to think you favored peppermint tea for some reason,” he said flatly.
“That man is a limited, presumptuous, and wholly stupid creature who—”
“You really are quite magnificent in a way,” Jason observed, sipping his coffee. “I don’t think I’ve ever met such a wholly selfish and self-absorbed creature in all of my travels, and that includes an impressive string of candidates.”
Ivy glared—offended and yet confused.
“That doesn’t sound like a compliment,” she noted.
Jason shrugged. To his mind, it was neither compliment nor insult, it was a statement of fact.
“So your friend Harley finally split away from the Joker, just like you’d always dreamed, and instead of coming straight to you, and the two of you embarking on wondrous adventures, she’s set out on her own, living her own life, pursuing her own interests and—”
“She isn’t pursuing anything at all,” Ivy snapped bitterly. “She’s just killing time, rotting away in those stupid, nauseating fantasies of hers that that loathsome clown is in love with her and they’re going to—”
“She is hopelessly obsessed and always will be. It is her fate.”
“You seem to know a great deal about everybody, don’t you, Mr. Blood.”
Jason nodded formally. It was true, his magickal sensitivities could give him an extraordinary amount of information about the past, present and future of anyone he encountered, if he only opened himself up to the knowing. But he needed no supernatural knowledge to understand the likes of Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn.
“So to your mind, Harley and Harvey both abandoned you and you struck out in response… at Selina? That is most curious. Why her, I wonder? Can a ‘goddess’ envy what an ordinary mortal woman has? It would appear so, if the man she loves—Oh, do go away,” Jason ordered casually in an aside to the vines that had eased into position to wrap around his throat.
Ivy was horrified to see her most loyal plants bow obsequiously to Jason and back away. And Jason was quick to note it.
“It wouldn’t occur to you, sublimely selfish creature that you are, that Selina would find it just as distasteful to see Bruce respond to you…” Jason’s cruelest smile returned. “Oh, but no, of course you realized; that was the point, was it not?”
Ivy bared her teeth. Her pheromones and her plant minions were useless against this terrible man. She had no choice, it seemed, but to sit and listen while he could say whatever he wanted. Such monstrous lies, too. Who did he think he was to treat her this way? Who did he think he was to have such callous disregard for her feelings? How could anybody be so oblivious to another person’s pain that—And what in the name of Gaia’s blossoms was he smiling about!
“It is a start,” Jason pronounced with satisfaction, staring at her as if he could read her thoughts. “Really very surprising growth from you… Pamela, is it? I would not have expected it. Not at all.”
He stood to leave.
“How dare you,” she declared, more offended by this presumptuous condescension than anything that had happened yet.
“Yes, quite,” Jason answered with a formal bow and turned, slowly, his hands behind his back, like—well—a man strolling through the park.
I was in a bit of a state when I hit the rooftops.
Bruce had, predictably, gone all batty on the Ivy issue. He hates it when any of them slip out of the nice, neat crime/chase/pummel routine and act like people. He likes the status quo—at least where non-feline adversaries are concerned.
We’d discussed several ways to bait her. Some of Bruce’s ideas were pretty wild, including mounting a class action suit on behalf of all the men she’d enslaved over the years, the idea being to humiliate her into striking back and teaching them a lesson. How’s that for a clueless guy idea. I mean, seriously—if pulling ahead of Harley Quinn in the Messed Up Over a Gotham Man sweepstakes doesn’t jolt those last active braincells into pumping something other than chlorophyll, I really don’t see that a summons from the law firm of Jacobs, Abercrombie and Slade would have any effect.
In the end, we decided it was, quite simply, a job for Batman. Batman can be infuriating. I had a time explaining that to him, just how maddeningly annoying he can be. I finally convinced him all he really had to do was go to her and be himself—if Batman pushed her, she’d push back, period. I was sure of it.
So he’d gone into Robinson Park to initiate Operation Bat-Prick.
But I couldn’t stay at home waiting. Not tonight, after all that “taming” stuff. I had to be out and about. But considering the way the last few prowls turned out, I wasn’t keen about making the rounds on my usual rooftops.
So I went to see Harvey. I knew he was still puttering around that old theatre that had served as his last Two-Face lair. He hadn’t worked out what to do with himself yet, so he invented these little projects. The last one I heard he was hooking up some kind of satellite dish into the projection booth so he could watch digital programming on the big screen.
I was just approaching the theatre when I saw he was leaving. I was a little disappointed, it looked like I was stuck with a solitary prowl whether I liked it or not… when I got the idea of following him. I’d been doing this, on and off, since I’d changed the way I prowled. I could follow Robin, Nightwing, Huntress, and Spoiler without their ever knowing and Batgirl… Shit. Stephanie. Aw, hell… Anyway Batgirl was harder. She’s seen me four times. She’s so cute. She doesn’t understand what I’m doing and she won’t ask. I’d tell her if she’d ask… I think Black Canary spied me once. And Bruce caught me the only time I tried following him.
I figured Harvey, while in no way challenging, would make a nice change of pace.
I thought that right up until his cab slowed at the northwest corner of Robinson Park. Was he out of his mind? He was getting out of the taxi, paying the driver, and walking straight into the Crazed Chrysanthemum Playhouse. Tonight’s feature: Fatal Attraction.
I followed him inside, of course. It took me longer to reach Ivy’s actual lair, I needed to be more circumspect with all her damn weeds everywhere. By the time I reached a point where I could see what was happening, I was afraid Harvey might be sucking seedpods.
Instead, it seemed like they were just talking. The voices were low and sort of—not hostile. I started to get the idea that I was snooping into something intimate and personal, that was none of my business, and that maybe I should take my feline curiosity out of the vicinity and go back to stalking Van Goghs.
Now it may seem like I was slow to reach that conclusion, but I wasn’t the very bottom of the bell curve. Because just at that moment, a gloved hand clamped over my mouth and I felt myself pulled around and backwards—to see Batman with a finger to his lips. He removed the other hand from my mouth and wordlessly handed me an earpiece.
There are times he really has no shame. No shame whatsoever.
I put the tiny silver half bat to my ear and heard exactly what I expected—Harvey and Ivy, the same voices we could hear only as muffled murmurs from the lair entrance, only amplified and distinct.
“This is none of our business,” I insisted in a hissing whisper.
“Quiet,” he growled.
No shame whatsoever.
..:: The irony, ::.. Harvey was saying, ..:: is that Two-Face would have loved this. ::..
..:: Loved what? ::.. Pammy replied. And she sounded… like I’ve never heard her before. Normal. ..:: Loved that you’ve moved on so beautifully, living your life happily without a care in the world, while your ex has become this pathetic basket case—::..
..:: Yes. He would have really enjoyed that. The sadistic brute. ::..
..:: I would have slapped that smarmy smirk off his face, ::.. Ivy growled. ..::You know the one. ::..
..:: He would have slapped you right back, Petal. Twice. ::..
..:: Don’t call me that. ::..
..:: Ivy, then. ::..
..:: It’d kill you to call me Pam? ::..
..:: I’ll call you anything you want, Pamela. But you were never “Pam” with me, and we both know it. ::..
..:: In the beginning. ::..
..:: In the beginning, when you introduced yourself as Pamela Isley, you were more Poison Ivy than you would ever be. You tried to kill me, Petal, that’s all that first relationship ever was. You think I magically forgot that little detail when we started up again after the acid? Darth got off on it, Ivy! He liked making you scream for it and then turning to me and replaying the memory of that little bistro in SoHo where it took you four tries to order the Mixed Herb Cous Cous because you kept tripping over your tongue and then broke into that phony first-date giggle like you were some shy, sweet, ordinary girl. ::..
I turned to Bruce—Batman, rather—and handed back the earpiece.
“That’s it,” I told him, “There’s a line, that crossed it, I’m outta here.”
“I’m staying,” he growled.
“Imagine my surprise,” I growled back.
I went back to the penthouse.
I fixed myself a martini. Same shaker Ivy had used the night before. It was a thank you gift from Barbara, for being an attendant at her wedding. I wore yellow ruffles…
I’ve broken into people’s homes, gone through their safes, private papers, their bedrooms, jewelry boxes—nothing ever felt that—invasive—as those minutes eavesdropping at Ivy’s lair.
At least that’s what I told myself. The crisp tang of the vodka said otherwise. I’d drunk quite a few martinis that night, after the catfight with Talia. She had said something, that I was a conquest. He just wanted the persona, the forbidden bad girl. It hit a nerve. It was only the bitter rantings of a jealous, psychotic shrew, but it hit a nerve.
I heard the ping of the elevator, and that familiar footstep in the foyer.
“Honey, I’m home,” I called when he saw me, just as I had that night in the cave. We were both in costume then, like we were now, but it felt so different there in the penthouse. His eye glanced at the shaker, then the glass, then at me. I assumed he was guessing how many I’d had.
“I tried Cartier’s first,” he said, “then the MoMA.”
“Yeah, I thought about the MoMA,” I told him, shaking the last drops from the shaker into my glass. “But I came here instead. I felt like I needed a shower.”
“It wasn’t that personal,” he insisted, picking up the empty shaker and walking it back to the bar. “I’ve listened in on—and on occasion burst in on—much worse. Every crimefighter has.”
He had taken off his gloves and started washing up the shaker and the glasses from the night before.
“What was Harvey doing, going to see her like that anyway?” I asked, raising my voice to be heard over the running water.
“From what I heard before you arrived, it sounded like Jason Blood ran into her and gave Harvey the heads-up that she was… in trouble, emotionally. Harvey’s a nice guy. And the way he left it with her as Two-Face was obviously part of the problem. I suppose he went to see her to make it right. Give her some closure.”
“And did he? How did they leave it?”
“It’s over. It seemed like a fairly civilized ending, considering.”
“Meaning what, you didn’t have to step in and take half the sketch to the emergency room and the other out to Arkham?”
“She tried to seduce him—the old fashioned way—he said no. They said goodbye. And that was that.”
I winced. It sounded so… bloodless.
Bruce surprised me then. He’d finished the wash up at the bar and come back to the living room. He sat down beside me and stretched out his arm behind me on the sofa. It was the strangest thing. He almost never “relaxes” that way in costume, even in the cave.
“I have to go back out,” he said softly. “I missed both patrols last night and the early one tonight. I’ll be late getting back. You shouldn’t wait up.”
I had this overwhelming urge to try and seduce him “the old fashioned way,” to try and make him stay, although I knew I wouldn’t be any more successful than Pammy had been.
It was like he read my thoughts, because he had put the glove back on the one hand and touched my cheek with his bare fingers before putting on the other.
“Selina,” he said gently, “They never became Harvey and Pam. Goodnight, Kitten. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Bruce,” I whispered.
“Oh, and Selina,” he called over his shoulder as he headed for the window, “let me be clear about something. As much as I did enjoy last year’s dubiously acquired Houdini journal, I will not be pleased if that Van Gogh turns up under the Christmas tree with a purple ribbon around it.”
“Hey, that hadn’t even occurred to me,” I teased, “What a good idea!”
He shot a line and was gone—I didn’t hear it, but I just know he said it as soon as he was out of earshot.